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Drug Development: Looking for Effective Combinations

June 11, 2015

My work with reformulating the anticancer drug vincristine led to a pivotal moment in my training and development as a scientist at the BC Cancer Agency.

I was given the opportunity to discuss my work with a group of world renowned oncologists and five minutes into the conversation, a clinician asked, “Why are you contemplating developing a new formulation of vincristine as a single drug?” I, of course, indicated that we had made a better version of the drug –more effective and less toxic.

The clinician shook his head despairingly and indicated that vincristine really only works well in combinations, not as a single agent. Our reformulated version of vincristine was eventually approved, but its true value will likely only be established as it begins to be used with other drugs. This experience initiated my interest in the development of drug combinations and still guides my research today.

I am particularly interested in developing drug combinations that have the potential to help patients with some of the most aggressive forms of cancer and concepts related to “synthetic lethality”: understanding how cancer cells respond to drugs to help identify their unique protective responses.

My research team uses this information to develop novel drug combinations consisting of the selected cancer drug and a second drug targeting the protective response, which will make the drug much more effective.

This research is supported by many organizations (Canadian Institute of Health Research, Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, The Terry Fox Research Initiative, The Canadian Foundation for Innovation, OvCaRe, Pancreas Centre BC and others) but none of this would be possible without the support from the PHSA and, importantly, the BC Cancer Foundation.